Foreign Report: Startups Are The New Frenzy In The Middle East

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Mikko Silventola, partner at Annia Capital.
I landed to the Middle East a few months ago and I have already seen lots of networking events and buzz about entrepreneurship and especially new start-ups. 95% of UAE's companies are SME sized and hire 40 percent of the country's workforce. These companies are the ones that grows the local economy and employs the new star employees besides the travel industry and tourism.

Start-ups seems to be everywhere in the Europe and USA but also in the Middle East. In Dubai you notice it in the public and private sector. Dubai Government has established many supportive and regulatory entities such as Dubai SME 100 competition. Du – the Largest telecommunications company operating only in UAE has their own start-up TV-programme called ”The Entrepreneur”. Dominating financials entities such as Abraaj Capital and others are running conferences and platforms to entice entrepreneurship. Big publishers are launching Start-up magazines. Successful entrepreneurs are heroes in Dubai.

Despite all these facts and efforts, at the moment, there seems not to be many successful case studies as a result. Maybe it's still too early, maybe angel investors are more interested in acquiring 100% of IPs rather than supporting young entrepreneurs, we shall see.

It looks like Jordan is leading the way in the Middle East start-up culture; despite the lack of infrastructures the best ideas seems to come from that area of the ME. Maybe the lack of framework and regulatory body is an advantage?

Gradberry is one of the most interesting start-ups at the moment. Gradberry.com tells us that it is the leading careers portal for student internships and new graduate jobs in the Middle East. The start up connects students, graduates, employers and Universities, and aims to mitigate youth unemployment in the region, by planting fruitful careers.

Launched in November 2011, Gradberry has a presence in 550 Universities globally, and is now posting jobs from the U.A.E, KSA, Egypt, Ireland and UK. Clients include Google, IBM and Philips and over 200 SMEs. The Fruit Bowl, gradberry’s career blog, provides career resources to support and  facilitate the job search experience for students and new grads. In 2012, one year after launch, the startup was a winner at the United Nations ITU Young Innovator’s Competition, and winner of the Cartier Laureate for the MENA Region. Gongrats guys!

United Arab Emirates also definetely needs the kind of start-ups that has their own effect on the nations wellbeing. There is still quite a high unemployment rate and it is always fruitful to see new start-ups solving big national problems.

Is there anything about Middle East startup culture that the Nordics or Baltics can learn from?

IP in the Middle East is a quest. There are endless stories both in the public and private sector about ideas being stolen shamelessly. Dubai, as an example, has been a trade center for hundreds of years; in all trades there are middle men making money out of a transaction. The startup economy requires everything other than middle men, who do not add real value to a deal. We are all aware that most of the times is about execution rather than the idea itself but the culture of big fish eats small fish is still well eradicated in the ME. At this is stage there is not much to learn from but I am absolutely confident that when internet penetration in the entire region will flourish then new stories and ideas will come alive and turn the ME into a true start-up economy (with no middle men!).

Also Dubai is gathering lots of knowledge, practises and ”energy” from around the World so there will be good start-up cases coming. And what is for sure is that Dubai is the Hub for thinking big but also the hub for going truly International in the Middle East and Africa. Huge markets like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Africa are just a short fly away.

What if you think about expanding your start-up to the increasing economic growth market of Middle East instead of USA?

About author:

Mikko Silventola is a founding Partner of Annia. In addition he holds the position of Board Member and Founder of Calcus Publishing Group, a Nordic publisher of focused Employer Branding and Corporate Branding reports. He is also the Chairman of the Board and Founder at TAEL Group, a rapidly growing Nordic digital Content Marketing company.

Annia Capital is a Nordic investment firm with a global reach. We partner with high-potential entrepreneurs

managing early stage or more established firms with the goal of delivering transformative growth.

Meet Annia Capital in Helsinki, Stockholm or Dubai!

www.anniacapital.com

Special thanks to Mr. Giorgio Ungania, TEDxDubai!

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